Today, we have James Olney, Head of Data & Analytics at media agency The Specialist Works, who is going to take us through a typical day in his life, from the skills he needs to his favourite campaigns.

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Please describe your job: What do you do?

James Olney: As head of data and analytics, it’s my job to ensure that everyone is aware of the value data can have to all aspects of a modern media agency. I am responsible for ensuring we at TSW leverage data for the good our of clients and for the good of our business.

We have a growing data proposition and a team who build and manage this. A large aspect of this is our centralised and foundational Marketing Intelligence platform, MINT.

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

James Olney: We ultimately all report to our clients, and so the shared challenges that we are helping our clients overcome is what directs my work. I report into our CEO Martin and sit on the SLT to ensure the impact of data is felt throughout the business.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

James Olney: Above all things, you need to be pragmatic and be willing both to be challenged and to challenge your own preconceptions. No two situations are the same and it takes time to develop customised solutions for clients. You need to be flexible in your thinking to be able to do this and to ensure that data is used in order to evidence our actions and inform our actions.

To say ‘problem solving’ sounds trite but I value a structured and scientific approach. A good data professional is naturally sceptical. In my position, I need to be strategic and future-facing but also willing to get into the weeds and get my hands dirty doing some analysis and modelling.

The role of data and analytics is to be pragmatic in the face of human and historical biases and to focus on the science rather than ‘gut’ thinking.

james olney the specialist works

Tell us about a typical working day…

I wish I knew. I’ve been here for five months and no two days have been the same. It’s brilliant.

I’ve got the opportunity to work on developing our data product, got stuck into some modelling projects and had the pleasure of learning a lot about some new businesses which we will be working with in future.

The TSW culture is fantastically absorbing and has been a real change from previous experiences so I’ve also been spending a lot of time learning more about the place I work and the people I work with.

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

I’ve really enjoyed getting under the skin of some of our clients’ businesses, much like days here at TSW, no two clients are the same. We have to always be learning and improving our approaches as challenges get more complicated or different. One thing we have been tackling recently is to show the immediate and long term value of TV investment. We have developed a two-stage approach which we’ve trialled successfully on a couple of clients and presenting this kind of new thinking to a client who finds this interesting (and exciting) is really rewarding.

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

As an agency we’ve already made huge strides towards being data-driven, a large part of this comes down to the enormous talent we have in the team.

The most ambitious goal for the team is driving cultural change with our clients and our people at TSW to embrace all of the advantages that data science and analytics can bring.

As a team, our goal is to deliver business results for our clients – to support our planning functions to grow businesses in a sustainable evidenced way. This is where we get to the role of MINT, marketing intelligence supports our people from strategy, to planning through optimisation to evaluation.

Further to this, I would love to see us turn this lake of data and bank of evidence into some award-winning work.

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

I love chat over email, we use Teams here at TSW and it’s a brilliantly informal way of quickly messaging someone – I’m a big fan of a GIF.

How did you end up at The Specialist Works, and where might you go from here?

I came from a large network agency which was a fantastic experience and gave me some great experience working with some of the largest advertisers in the UK and working with some top-talent, I learnt a lot but I wanted a change and to work with some different clients – TSW works with brands who are on a fascinating journey, this is what is interesting to me. The agency itself has gone through several transformations, we’re not standing still for a minute and that ‘what’s possible’ spirit is infectious.

The brands I used to work with were already wildly successful but also huge, I’m now really enjoying working with brands who are still in the rapid growth phase and who are looking to try new things to propel them to new heights, data is key to this as investment needs to show returns so data is used heavily to inform planning, forecasting, modelling and evaluation.

Which data-backed experiences/marketing stick out to you?

Since joining I’ve been amazed at some of the work our AV team has done for our clients, for OVO Group we’ve run campaigns which target an audience who specifically didn’t own smart meters.

Wider than this I think Adidas’ ‘Green Light Run’ campaign was amazing. A pure idea which was incredibly well executed but which very much relied on data to map out traffic signal times so it was possible to run an entire marathon through Tokyo without ever hitting a red light.

What advice would you give an aspiring data scientist interested in marketing/media?

Get involved – it’s a great industry to disrupt with new thinking, certainly now – there’s a real opportunity to bring new techniques into marketing and media – we at TSW have really benefited from this – one of our recent hires borrowed techniques for sound engineering and signal processing to overcome a problem of noisy data, previously we’ve borrowed ideas from physics, the problem is finding and attracting new talent. There’s usually no shortage of application, but those who can really make a difference are finding careers in other fields.

A couple of years ago I gave a talk at Oxford University to a group of post-grad, masters and doctorate students, my fellow panelists were a geneticist and a pharmacologist – it was a tough sell, I’m not sure a single one of them had considered a career in marketing before stepping into the lecture theatre. As an industry I think we need to do something about that, we have to get better at marketing ourselves.